THE SEVEN MOST POWERFUL WORDS FOR ANY LEADER
Many years ago, a boss of mine coached me to use seven words that would in the future have significant impact on my success as a leader. He believed it is all too easy for emerging leaders to try and answer all the questions that their subordinates pose to them, thinking such Olympian wisdom will somehow enhance their credibility and image. Actually, great leaders know that their role is not to be the “Wizard of Oz”, who in an all-knowing manner has all the answers.
I’m sure if you could track down the executive teams at the three public companies I had the privilege to lead, one of the things they would say about me was that “He never seemed to know anything.” This conclusion comes as a direct result of many of these executives, who were being paid handsomely, walking into my office and posing questions like “Jim, what do you think I should do about _____?” Over time, I learned that, for the good of those executives and the company, my best response was to never answer their question – but rather to respond “I don’t know; what do you think?”
As leaders, we all know that people will incessantly try to delegate things upward to us that they are accountable for. Asking for solutions to problems that they should be dealing with is typical, and if we allow it to happen, we are weakening them and the organization. Executives are hired and paid to identify problems and opportunities, weigh various alternatives, complete ROI evaluations and make recommendations regarding the best actions to take. When we provide answers in the misguided attempt to help, we remove critical accountability and growth opportunities for our subordinates.
It was amazing to watch what happened when they understood what their jobs really were about, and that my expectation was that they would bring recommendations and solutions – to watch how subordinates grew and became better leaders themselves. And when they did bring well thought out recommendations, I would always be willing to listen. It wasn’t easy to learn to bite my tongue and play dumb, and I’m sure some of them never did figure out that there was a strategy behind my response. However, even in those cases, they became better and stronger leaders, who understood that their real role was to be strategic thinkers who took accountability for solving issues and developing plans to take advantage of opportunities.
So where should you start you might ask? I don’t know; what do you think?
Have you ever read MacGregor, the outstanding story by Arthur Elliott Carlisle about one of the best leaders I have ever read about? Click on the link below and enjoy!